French authorities on Wednesday called off a two-day search and rescue operation for the chief executive of the California-based surfwear company Quiksilver after his motorboat washed up empty on a beach near Hossegor, north of the coastal resort of Biarritz, the previous day.
Pierre Agnes, 54, had gone out on a solo fishing trip, as he often did. He went out in his 36-foot boat, the Mascaret III, about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. He later contacted the local port authorities to say he was delaying his return because of heavy fog. His overturned vessel was found on the beach less than three hours later.
Maritime authorities had struggled with waves of up to 8 feet and poor visibility Tuesday. They called off the search on Wednesday afternoon after canvassing the area with two boats, a jet ski and three helicopters, saying there was little chance of Agnes being found alive.
Water temperatures were in the low to mid-50s, and that stretch of coastline is known for its fast, big and heavy barrel waves, making it a popular spot for surfers. At this time of winter there are also perilous riptides and shifting sandbanks.
Agnes, an avid surfer, was born in Capbreton, a former fishing port on France’s southerly Atlantic coast. He joined Quiksilver in 1998 and worked his way to the top. In 2015, he became CEO of the parent company, Boardriders, which owns Quiksilver, Roxy and DC Shoes.
He lived nearby with his three children. He ran the Huntington Beach-based company from its European headquarters in the seaside resort of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, near France’s border with Spain.
Quiksilver, founded in Australia, filed for bankruptcy in 2015. Quiksilver was bailed out by the Los Angeles-based investment company Oaktree Capital Management, which specializes in snapping up struggling companies and turning them around.
The company changed its name to Boardriders last year. This month, Boardriders announced a $315-billion deal to buy its Australian rival Billabong. The merger transformed the company into a world leader in surfwear, with outlets in more than 110 countries.
“Early this morning our CEO, Pierre Agnes, did what he did many mornings and went fishing on his beloved boat to start his day,” the company said in a statement Tuesday.
“Later in the morning his boat was recovered on the beach near his hometown and Pierre has not been heard from since. The Boardriders family and entire surfing world are devastated by this news.
“We are concentrating on working with the local authorities on the search and rescue effort and supporting Pierre’s family.”
Former surfing champion Kelly Slater wrote on Instagram: “I pray for a miracle but it’s just starting to hit me what a profound effect this man had on my life and the surf community at large. He loved his morning fishing trips, family, Quiksilver, surfing, friends, motorbikes, Capbreton.… I’m not even sure how to let it sink in.”
Willsher is a special correspondent.